Video and performance artist Shannon Plumb’s debut feature is a decidedly family affair. Co-starring her real-life husband, film director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Behind the Pines) and their two young childen, Towheads is an amusing if at times too self-consciously eccentric comedy depicting emotional ennui with a deadpan humor revealing the filmmaker’s silent screen comedy influences.
The writer/director stars as Penelope, a housewife and mother of two adorable blond boys, ages four and seven, who give the film its title. Living in a well-appointed Brooklyn home, Penelope is clearly dissatisfied with her station in life and is given little support by her up-and-coming director husband Matt (Cianfrance), whose emotional distance is signified by the fact that his face is never seen clearly.
Like a modern-day Lucy Ricardo, Penelope aspires to an artistic career, with often disastrous results. Wearing an ill-fitting bathing suit, she completely botches an audition for a tampon commercial. Pretending to be a man while wearing an outlandish moustache, she applies for a job as a Salvation Army Santa Claus under the name “Mike Tyson.” And the yoga classes she professes to attend are actually pole dancing lessons, although she nearly kills herself while trying out for a gig as a stripper.
Plumb’s talent for physical comedy and penchant for outrageous costumes are well demonstrated in these and such other scenes as when she romantically dances with a ghost light on a bare stage. The film’s off-kilter rhythms take some getting used to, and not all the attempts at humor pay off. But the character’s awkwardly pained attempts at achieving self-realization are oddly endearing, even when she engages in such strange behavior as showing up for a family dinner dressed in a football uniform, complete with helmet.
The film comes off as more of a succession of self-contained comedic vignettes than as an incisive portrait of a woman vainly trying to have it all. But Plumb’s plucky, eccentric character is so winning that you find yourself rooting for her nonetheless.
Production company: Artists Public Domain
Cast: Shannon Plumb, Derek Cianfrance, Cody Cianfrance, Walker Cianfrance
Director/screenwriter: Shannon Plumb
Producers: Alex Orlovsky, Hunter Gray
Executive producer: Tyler Brodie
Director of photography: Brett Jutkiewicz
Editor: Joseph Krings
Production designer/costume designer: Katie Hickman
Composer: David Wilder
Not rated, 85 minutes